The Prayer is probably to be identified with Prevetariello in preghiera (Altar Boy Praying), one of the works which first attracted the attention of Alberto Cahen, a Belgian musician and composer, then already well known in leading artistic circles, who befriended Mancini in the early seventies and became his first patron. According to Dario Cecchi, Mancini in that period painted Lo Scugnizzo (Young Neapolitan Boy), Prevetariello "dai grandi occhi" (probably the painting in the Museo di Capodimonte, Naples), and Prevetariello in preghiera (Altar Boy), "ad occhi chiusi; dipinto meno noto del primo, ma pittoricamente più emozionato" (with eyes closed; a painting not as well known as the preceding, but of greater emotion) (D. Cecchi, Mancini, Turin, 1966, p.43). There is an equivocal quality in Mancini's early paintings. As in certain aspects of the Neapolitan Seicento, to which Mancini's work frequently refers, the enigmatic images he created remain impervious to the passing of time and fashion. Like many paintings of children in acts of devotion painted by Mancini at Naples between 1865 and 1875, The Prayer is an image more sensual than sentimental, and hovers uncertainly between awe and devotion. Children were a popular subject in the Nineteenth century, but Mancini's representations are a little disquieting, and not cloyed with sentimentality, as was frequently the case. However, of their current appeal there is little doubt, if Mancini, while still in his twenties, managed to find his way to the Salon (1872) and to the ever speculative Goupil. John Singer Sargent, who admired Mancini's bravura and greatly assisted him in London, possesssed Il fabbricante di figure, a title which neatly summarizes the genius of Mancini in subtleties of composition, and not merely as a master of painterly technique. Larger works of the same theme as Prevetariello in preghiera include Il voto (The Vow, Barone Chiarandà collection, Naples) and another of the same title, also known as San Gennaro (Giovanni Gussoni Collection, Milan). Certain elements in the composition - the squared background drapery and the clasped hands, for instance - are to be found in Lo studio, 1875 circa (The Study, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Rome).
We are grateful to Paul Nicholls for his assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.